Since Patrick Vieira left for Inter Milan in 2005, Arsenal have spent £130million on 12 players you could conceivably claim were bought as a direct replacement. But forgivable initial comparisons between Abou Diaby or Francis Coquelin and the colossus they succeeded are now half-baked and simplistic beyond any excusable degree. Thomas Partey is not “a modern day Vieira”.
Jamie O’Hara, mental gymnast and out-of-the-box thinker, appeared on the ever-cosmopolitan talkSPORT Breakfast show to lay claim to the “big statement”.
“I watched him when they played against Liverpool at Anfield last season and he was absolutely fantastic, he tore Liverpool apart. For me, he looks like a modern-day Vieira, and I know that’s a big statement, but he looks the real deal, this guy.”
Without wishing to cast aspersions on Mr O’Hara in particular – he simply has a platform to voice a widely-held view to the nation – this is a lazy, out-dated and uncomfortable comparison.
Firstly, to equate a modern-day player with another from 15 years ago makes very little sense. We’ve been through several iterations of football in the interim: tiki-taka; Gegenpressing; false nines; raiding full-backs. We have seen formations, positions and roles greatly altered. There was no-one like Vieira when Vieira was playing, let alone now, when that sort of player doesn’t even really exist.
He played as one of two central midfielders for Arsenal – alongside Emmanuel Petit and then Gilberto Silva. He was arguably the slightly more attacking player in both of those partnerships, but was expected to evenly split creativity with his defensive duty.
Kevin De Bruyne, Paul Pogba and Gini Wijnaldum may be known as box-to-box midfielders, but the label means something very different now than when it was used to describe Vieira. All three of those players have a far more defensively-minded teammate alongside them and are heralded for their attacking influence far more than their tough tackling or work in their own third. Leon Goretzka is perhaps the biggest throwback to the original Vieira-like box-to-box midfielder.
But the vast majority of midfielders are now trained and bred into pigeonholes: DMs; CAMs; RAMs; LAMs. Even the CMs aren’t really CMs, more LCMs and RCMs. Partey has played as a DM for Atletico, after a successful spell as a CAM on loan at Almeria, but what would Vieira be? He would likely prove successful anywhere across a midfield three, but also as one of a deeper-lying duo with a No.10 ahead of him. But he would be a very different player in any of those positions; that is the point.
Secondly, O’Hara’s view is clearly based on one – admittedly outstanding – game against Liverpool in the Champions League last season. We love knee-jerk reactions; they’re a big part of sport and a big part of football in particular. But some recognition of a lack of knowledge, an ‘I haven’t seen much of him but…’ precursor, would have been…